And you think you have a tough boss?
Consider the poor Amazon engineer that gave a presentation to CEO Jeff Bezos only to have him say, “Why are you wasting my life?”
Bezos is notoriously difficult in meetings, according to “The Everything Store, Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon,” a fascinating new book by Brad Stone.
According to Stone, Bezos berates employees with “Jeffisms” like, “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”
Most of us must meet with tough bosses occasionally. Here are some rules for presenting to tyrants and other senior executives.
Rule #1: Know Your Listener.
I know a group of engineers that prepared a presentation to the CEO on a new technology that would allow the company to charge customers more money. They were stunned when the CEO rejected their plan.
It turned out that the CEO wasn’t focused on generating revenue. At the time, 2008, he was focused on cutting costs.
Three months later the engineers returned to the CEO with a presentation focusing on how the same technology would reduce costs. By understanding their listener, they were able to win approval.
Rule #2: Keep it short and limit your slides.
Top executives hear tons of presentations and are time-strapped. So get to the point and prepare for a conversation rather than deliver a typical “presentation.”
Steve Yegge, an Amazon engineer, pointed out in a Google+ post that Bezos spends an inordinate amount of time hearing presentations. Says Yegge, “He doesn’t have to do anything at all except dress himself in the morning and read presentations all day long . . . You have to tear out whole paragraphs or even pages to keep it interesting for him.” Less is more with top execs.
Similarly, Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO and another tough customer, hated slides. Rather, he preferred discussions.
“People would confront a problem by creating a presentation,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson for the bestseller “Steve Jobs.” ”I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”
Keep it tight. State the challenge. Propose a solution. Discuss.
Rule #3: Prepare for Questions.
I know a top sales executive who was preparing to meet with the CEO of one of Atlanta’s largest companies. He didn’t even bother creating a presentation. Rather, he spent two weeks brainstorming all the questions that he might expect during the meeting.
We urge our clients to send out an email to everyone that knows your CEO and ask for a list of questions to expect.
Then practice those questions.
Q&A is never credibility neutral. Good answers build credibility. Lousy answers destroy it.
Rule 4: If You Don’t Know, Admit it.
Bezos is famous for blindsiding employees with unexpected questions. Yegge, the Amazon engineer, described in his Google+ post how he fully expected to be caught off guard by Bezos.
His presentation addressed skills needed by a generalist engineer. During the presentation, Bezos asked, “Why aren’t data mining and machine learning on this list?”
Yegge said he laughed and said, “Yup, you got me. I don’t know why it’s not in there. It should be. I’m a dork. I’ll add it.” Yegge said Bezos laughed and “everything was great.”
At times, admitting ignorance can calm your tyrant.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”